But just a minute here. Aren't goals, however idealistic or elusive, crucial to achievement? How much greatness would be lost to the world if artists, athletes, scientists, and thinkers fled potential disappointment and boredom to wander off in search of delight?
"Goal-free living isn't about being aimless or saying, 'Oh, this is getting tough. I've got to stop,'" Shapiro contends. "It's about being passion-driven in the moment, while knowing you can change course." It's also about "getting out, playing, and trying lots of new things." You can't find out what you love to do by sitting and thinking about it, he says; you must experience it.
Intel's Doug Busch, for instance, started off picking fruit during college, then maintained machinery in a poultry processing plant. "Most people think that's pretty low-end, but he actually loved it, and realized the reason was that he wanted to work with his hands," Shapiro says. "So he went back to school and became a mechanical engineer." Next, he got a job at Intel and grew more interested in other aspects of technology, eventually growing into his current position. "This is meandering with purpose," Shapiro says. "When you're living a life of passion, you're almost always making a contribution.
"Let's say you'd like to be a healer," he says. "You can move down the road to medical school but look around and see that maybe you don't want to be a doctor after all. Maybe you want to be a nurse, or work with the elderly, or start a charity. You don't lock yourself in."
If, like me, you are a goalaholic, you can't be expected to quit cold turkey, nor do you need to. "The question is, do you have the right goals, and are you relating to them the right way?" Shapiro says. Some people abuse goals "as a way of escaping from being present. They distract themselves by looking ahead. I'm much more into enjoying every single moment for what it is and allowing things to unfold." He suggests thinking in terms of aspirations (work in the visual arts) rather than goals (get a painting into a specific gallery by date X) because they give you pleasure today and are more broadly defined.
Even corporations—in fact, especially corporations, Shapiro tells his clients—suffer from rigid planning. No one can foretell how the world will look in just a few years—witness the quick burst of the dot-com bubble. His biggest beef is with the popular institutional concept of goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, results oriented, and time based. The idea that you'll know right away whether you've succeeded or failed is misguided and crippling: "Not only have you set yourself up for failure but you've put a time limit on everything," Shapiro says.
His antidote to the pain of a failed goal is to step back and ask yourself whether you defined the desired outcome too narrowly and whether you tried to control the uncontrollable. "Life is unpredictable," he says. "So give up control. Create many paths. And play hard."
Above all, trash the "If I don't succeed by Tuesday, I'm a loser" mentality. "You know what?" he says merrily. "I'm not going to be done with what I'm doing till I'm dead. Sometimes I think of things so audacious they couldn't come true, so I just keep playing with them. It's really about applying creativity to every aspect of your life."
And that, if you'll excuse me, sounds like a worthy goal.
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